Without Data and Transparency, Companies Will Fail to Achieve Workplace Diversity

America is fast becoming more racially and ethnically diverse than ever. Despite the changing makeup of our country and the opportunity it affords to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace, businesses and organizations are largely failing in this important endeavor. While companies say they value diversity, and many have made important strides to achieve it, the reality is most are simply flying blind.

The two major stumbling blocks: a lack of diversity demographic data and the exclusion of various talent communities.

Employees overwhelmingly support workplace diversity. According to a CNBC/SurveyMonkey Workforce survey, nearly 80% of US employees said that they value an organization that prioritizes diversity and inclusion, with 53% calling it “very important.” Yet, on the flip side, a report by the Josh Bersin Academy found that a staggering 76% of companies have “no diversity or inclusion goals at all,” with 75% of companies failing to include DEI in their “leadership development or overall learning and development curricula.” The same report found that only one of nine companies hold managers or recruiters responsible for workforce diversification.

In the marketing industry, this problem is particularly acute, as a 2020 Marketing Week Career and Salary Survey found that close to 90% of respondents identified as white, with just 4% identifying as mixed race, 5% as Asian, and 2% as Black.

Why and where is the disconnect?  We’re not making progress.

It all starts with the data — or lack thereof. According to a Wall Street Journal analysis of 160 annual reports filed by S&P 500 companies in 2020, just one-third of these companies disclosed diversity data on their employees. This speaks to a larger problem.

Elena Philipova of the market data and infrastructure firm Refinitiv put it bluntly. “There’s a lack of information — not because companies are hiding it. Companies themselves do not have the data.”

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Because many organizations lack any formalized process to capture self-disclosed diversity demographic information on candidates and employees, it is nearly impossible for HR managers to measure the current progress toward meeting their diversity hiring objectives.

For example, adding a diversity questionnaire to our application process resulted in a 98% response rate amongst new talent applicants in our recruiting technology.

Businesses would be well served to put in place a transparent process to not only encourage voluntary self-identification of this information for qualified job candidates but to communicate the anonymized, aggregated data with key stakeholders. With that data, you can identify and develop strategies to address gaps in your talent pipeline, career pathing for current employees or succession planning for executive positions.

The second major hurdle is that companies tend to take a one-dimensional approach to diversity by only considering race and gender.

Arthur Woods, an LGBTQ+ leader and author of the book Hiring for Diversity, noted that one of the great myths when it comes to diversity in hiring is focusing too narrowly on aspects of diversity that are usually (though not always) more visible, such as race and gender. His research showed that fewer than half of organizations include people with disabilities in their tracking and goal-setting, and just 11% accounted for members of the LBGTQIA+ community.

Companies that disregard other dimensions of diversity, such as veteran, LGBTQIA+ status, age, ability and neurodiversity, do so at their peril.

While an estimated 85% of adults with autism are either unemployed or underemployed,  research has found that neurodiverse individuals, for example, can bring tremendous value to a company because many are highly creative, detail-oriented and good at solving complex technical problems.

We know diversity in the workplace is a win-win for employers and employees. Workers want it, and companies that do it well succeed both in terms of profitability and performance, among other metrics. Not only is our country becoming more diverse, but a transformational, pandemic-induced shift to permanent remote work has now given companies the ability to recruit anywhere in the world.

But companies cannot increase the diversity of their workforce without fully understanding their shortcomings and blind spots. Perhaps this is harsh, but we’re not calling you out. We’re calling you in. We’ve built tools and infrastructure to help clients see the full picture of diversity in their workforces. In doing so, they’ll create a workplace that truly embraces and celebrates diversity and inclusion. Let’s get started.

Simon Lusty

Simon Lusty
Simon Lusty is the chief marketing officer at Aquent, a global workforce services company that runs the largest staffing firm specializing in marketing, creative and experience design.

Simon Lusty

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